Over the past year, we’ve had the chance to meet a lot of people with amazing stories. Since they’ve aired, we’ve had the chance to reconnect and get deeper into what drives them.
For our first episode of The Deep Dish, we sat down with Lucas Sin, head chef of Junzi Kitchen in New York, who was featured on our channel making his signature tomato egg noodle dish.
Sin was born and raised in Hong Kong, so of course, we had to take him to a local cha chaan teng 茶餐厅 diner to have him introduce some of his favorite Hong Kong dishes.
We talked about the cuisine’s colonial roots, how he’s shaking up New York’s Chinese dining scene, and why Americans still won’t eat century egg. The conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
So Lucas, what are we eating today?
Baked pork chop rice. This is the No. 1 dish of my childhood.
Kind of looks like a little lasagna.
Exactly. When you pull it apart, it’s cheesy. The pork chop that goes on top is marinated. It’s pounded to give it a softer texture, and then it’s battered and deep-fried.
And then it’s put on top of this fried rice—fried rice, not regular rice. There’s egg in it that’s stir-fried.
And the sauce—the sauce is made from ketchup, sugar, and cornstarch to get this kind of silky, sweet ketchup sauce, kind of like an approximation of an Italian tomato sauce.
And then you put cheese on top, and then it's baked. It’s crazy. There are like, so many steps.
I love cha chaan teng 茶餐厅 because the food itself tells the story of how Chinese people responded to colonialism and Western influence.
It’s all about how the good people of Hong Kong tried to approximate upper colonial-class food and eat fancier European food. They took it for their own, and it became this whole other thing that’s uniquely Hong Kong.
(Read more: Our guide to eating your way through Hong Kong)
Tell us more about your restaurant and the menu. What’s worked for you guys and what hasn’t?
Quite a lot works for us. But at Junzi, we focus only on a couple of dishes. We serve three types of noodles: tomato and egg, zhajiang 炸酱, and sesame. These three sauces are really different from each other, but they’re very classic flavors.
We’ve toyed around with a lot of different concepts. Of course, there are things like pidan 皮蛋, century eggs. We used to serve a century egg tofu dish.
But it took a little bit of explanation. The best we could do was say, “You know, this is kind of like blue cheese. It’s kind of funky. If you think about it, you might not like it. But if you just eat it, it’s good.”
We took it off the menu because it was a little weird. You have to keep in mind that a lot of people in the U.S. think that all of Chinese food is chop suey, chow mein, lo mein, dumplings, and General Tso’s chicken.
So what are your thoughts on Chinese food that was invented in North America then?
So General Tso’s chicken is maybe the most iconic Chinese dish in American Chinese cuisine. But a lot of people like us who go to the U.S. and see something like this, we shake our heads and go, “No way this is Chinese food.” And I think that's not entirely accurate because I do think it’s Chinese food. It’s just a regional Chinese food.
(Read more: Where General Tso’s chicken actually came from)
You’re in Hong Kong this time because you were on a research trip in China. How often do you come, and what are you looking for on these trips?
I like to come to China every year and spend a month cooking in kitchens around the country because Chinese cuisine is so rich and diverse. It’s always going to take more time to learn, so it’s all part of my education.
The cuisine that really stood out to me this time—even though I didn’t go to that province—is Yunnan cuisine. Yunnan has incredible, incredible food because historically, it's always been a place of opportunity, both agricultural and economic.
In the north, you have the intersection of the Silk Road and to the south, Myanmar. There are about 50 different ethnic minorities in Yunnan, so it’s got this incredible cultural influence.
(Read more: Nobody does rice noodles better than Yunnan)
But it’s also quickly modernizing and the produce is good, so I have this theory that Yunnan cuisine is going to take over the world because it’s so similar to Vietnamese and Thai food.
And everyone loves Vietnamese and Thai food, so it’s going to be easier to make that bridge to this regional Chinese food.